Fragrant Abelia

“…do plant Abelia Triflora.  It flowers in June, grows to the size of what we used to call syringe [lilac], and is smothered in white, funnel-shaped flowers with the strongest scent of Jasmine.”

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden;
June 18th, 1950
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I waited all summer to buy the Abelia.  As you might know, shrubs are best planted in the fall.  I knew I had to have it, the scent of Jasmine is too irresistible.

Don’t be deterred by their condition in the fall, especially if it’s been sitting all summer in the nursery.  When I found it, the leaves had turned leathery and had been nibbled by pests.  The stems seemed unhealthy and were bent in peculiar ways.  Everyone passed it up as they clambered for the beautiful perfection of the blooming Rose of Sharron,  but I knew what the Abelia would do come summer.   The leaves, as you can see, are supple and green and its stems have now found their way to the sun.  The little flowers, which do resemble those of the Jasmine vine are pink and white; a beautiful contrast to its bright green leaves.  They start blooming right after the lilacs so it’s perfect for those of you “timing” your garden blooms.

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I love passing by and getting whiffs of its Jasmine-like scent.  Right now it is short and I have to bend over to catch it, but soon it will be right in my face.  I believe I choose the right spot.  All my scented flowers are planted along my back yard walking path so I can enjoy them.  So far, it has not been bothered by pests.  All my other bushes have been sprayed, but I haven’t had to touch the Abelia.  So, perhaps it has the added quality of being pest resistant?

Truly, it’s a beautiful plant.  Along with Vita, I too would recommend it, especially for those of you who would like something your neighbor doesn’t have, if we are comparing such things.

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Hollyhocks That Grow On Trees?

Spring and summer are well provided with flowering shrubs, but it is a puzzle to know what to grow of a shrubby nature for colour in the late months of July, August, and September.  There are the hibiscus (Althea Frutex) which are attractive with their hollyhock-like flowers…

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
June 25th, 1950

Everyday I run two miles with my dog and my kids in tow on their bikes, and everyday  I pass by the same bushes.  They sit in my neighbor’s yard oddly out of place toward the road.  I never realized these bushes were anything special until July rolled around.  With the heat of summer beautiful blooms began to emerge.

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Tall bushes they were, at least eight feet, with abundant blooms.  I thought immediately  I should plant several along my fence to block out my neighbor’s barking dog.  Perhaps the solution should come from these enormous shrubs of flowering beauty since they grow very tall and can live a life-time or more.

Indeed, they look like tree hollyhocks as Vita has mentioned in her books.  Miniature hollyhocks in fact, that come in a variety of color.  My neighbor has three, two white, and purple.  It was the white that caught me because I remembered seeing something similar in pictures of the white garden at Sissinghurst.

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At first I didn’t know what they were and I asked the neighbor if they were some sort of hibiscus.  She shook her head,  “No,” she said. “They are Rose of Sharon.”
This puzzled me because I thought for sure I was correct.  Being she is new to the neighborhood and had only just inherited those bushes I decided I would do some research before taking her word for it.  The name spelled out in my mind and I remembered Vita mentioning something about Rose of Sharon.  However, she does not refer to them as Rose of Sharon, rather she called them by their Latin name, Hibiscus Syriacus.   So we were both correct.

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Vita advises that they should be placed in the warmest sunniest spot you can find.  She often thought the spot she had hers could have been a tad more sunny. She says most, “are trained as a standard, with a great rounded head smothered in creamy flowers blotched with purple, giving the effect of an old-fashioned chintz; but charming as the hibiscus can be, I suspect that it needs more sun than it usually gets here, if it is to flower as we should like.  Perhaps I have been unlucky, although I did plant my hibiscuses-or should it be hibisci?- in the warmest, sunniest place.”

I think it would be a good investment when looking over shrubs to plant this fall to consider the Hibiscus Syriacus.  The flowers last quite a long time and in a warm, sunny place, as Vita suggests, its foliage will be full when it’s not in flower so you can use them to equally block a view while enhancing it.

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Under The Catalpa Tree…

Travelers between Calais and Paris must surely have noticed the lumps and clumps darkening like magpies’ nests the many neglected-looking strips of trees along the railway line in the North of France.  Perhaps the neglect is deliberate; perhaps they pay a good dividend.

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening; 1958

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The one and only catalpa tree in our neighborhood sits by our sidewalk.  Belonging not to one individual but rather to the entire City itself.  It is somewhat neglected yet it continues to flower and thrive year after year.  Perhaps neglect is all the better for it.

It was a great surprise as I rounded the corner on my morning walk and was greeted pleasantly by its white orchid-like frills.  A happy sight, as it looks like a tree belonging to the wild tropics rather than our conservative state of Michigan.

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Rarely do we see trees flowering in June, but the Catalpa shares with us its blooms; throwing them down for weeks.  They send a fragrance of rosehip and honeysuckle floating through the humid air as you pass, and when the flowering is done, its seeds appear. Like giant vanilla beans, they hang and dangle until they too eventually fall, hoping to spread the fruit of their mid-summer labor.

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A tree with many good qualities indeed.  Their fragrant, deep blooms make for a fun hiding place for the little fingers of children.  A canopy of huge heart-shaped leaves provide a hiding place for animals during rain storms, and the wood is resistant to rot, making it the perfect material for railroad ties.

Every year, I can’t help but wonder why I do not see more of this unique tree growing in the park or elsewhere?  I have not the slightest clue as to the origins of this one specimen.   I’m wondering now, how it came to be? Why on earth was it planted that close to the sidewalk but just off the property line of our neighbor’s?  Was it planted deliberately or did it seed there by accident?  It really is the only one I know of in this area.   Perhaps I haven’t been looking up enough.  Perhaps we need to plant more.

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Ramble On…

He kept them sitting for hours over the dinner table, he who was usually so impatient to move away; he kept them entertained by anecdote after anecdote, reminiscence after reminiscence, observation after observation…

-V. Sackville-West
Easter Parade: A Novel
Copyright: 1953

 

Allow me, if you will, to ramble a bit?  Ramble like a climbing, rambling vine?  One that reaches and twists until its head is in the sun or in this case the truth?

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The Clematis, if planted with good support, such as a twiggy bush – like a rose or lilac, will grow well and fast.  If the support is not there, it will falter and stagnate.  I have also heard that it will produce more blooms if grown horizontally.  Take for example, my neighbors clematis which grows on our side of the fence, much to my delight.  It grows horizontally through the fence and rambles about itself, see the abundance of blooms as a result?

However, for my three varieties of clematis I have chosen other plants to support them.  I have two growing throughout my lilac bush, and I recently discovered a third I assumed was dead. See my post, The Living Dead, for a good lesson on this.  Perhaps I should have read my own post.  Anyway, I thought about transplanting it to the lilacs as well, but instead I simply left it alone and planted a yellow rose bush beside it.  This purple Clematis growing through my yellow Floribunda Julia Child rose will make a striking combination when they begin to flourish.

SONY DSCThe clematis found its way to the rose without any assistance from me.  It shot up from the ground erect and happy, strong enough to support itself, but as it grew too long, it slumped over and slithered across the garden like a snake in search of a branch to coil and climb upon.

 

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The honeysuckle (featured in yesterday’s post Honeysuckle Fireworks ) has done well for me, I am surprised actually because the first year is usually hard on my perennials.  I watch the newly planted with nail biting anxiety, and at the slightest inconsistency or yellowed leaf, I worry and fret.

It seems this year more so than others, I have subconsciously made bright decisions about troubled plants.  I will attribute this to all I’ve read in books for the past two years.  In the past, information that had enlightened me was soon forgotten.  This year however, my focus has been more acute and I’m able to recall garden truths on a whim as if someone besides me has thought of it.

One such example of a bright decision was the transplanting of our Holly bushes.  They were originally planted in complete shade and continually had spots on their leaves and weren’t growing.  So I dug them up and planted them on the west end of the house where the morning sun would touch them.

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I gave them a drop of fertilizer and destroyed all their yellowing leaves as some looked to have the dreaded black spot fungus.  Again, evidence to me that they just needed more sun.  Since bacteria and fungus is usually killed by UV rays I would think more sunlight would lessen the chances of the black spot coming back.  But I am no botanist, this is only my educated guess.  Either way, they are doing quite well. They are now producing beautiful, perfect growth rapidly.

Thank you for reading!

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Garden Of Roses…

Indeed, I think you should approach them as though they were textiles rather than flowers.  The velvet vermilion of petals, the stamens of quivering gold…

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
May 28, 1950

 

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I have been waiting all year for this.  Waiting for the perfect opportunity to purchase my roses.  They will be the staple of my garden forever more.   I knew the perfect place to go, and if you live around you should check them out.  Vita always gave suggestions to nurserymen, as she called them, and as I have become quite a connoisseur of the big names around these parts I will do the same.   The place for roses, without a doubt, is Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb, MI.

I say this because they have a most well organized selection.  Organized by hybrid teas, old English, Floribunda and the climbers.  Each bush stands against a white picket fence.  What perfect staging!  Someone was clever enough to know the color of the blooms will stand out better.  Their position along the white picket fence also brings to mind the beautifully overgrown gardens of yesterday’s American dream.    Somewhere the Dining Sisters begin to sing in their usual perfect harmony, and all is right with the world.  Sigh…

Anyway, I ventured to this particular nursery because I knew I would find perfect specimens.   Each rose is clearly labeled.  You needn’t bend down to look at tags, but instead the information for each variety is displayed at eye level.

I walked along the pathways of old world romance and waited to be spoken to.  I didn’t have to wait long before I came face to waist with this, the most gorgeous rose I had ever seen. This floribunda Moon dance (above).  Its head did not waver or fall but stood erect, staring at me.  It’s petals did not fall at the touch of my hand.  Its color, a creamy white like churned butter, and its fragrance sweet.  All the leaves were intact and healthy, not one of them disturbed in the slightest.  Then, like a tidal wave, others spoke up.

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Floribunda, Sheila’s Perfume (above) was recommended to me by one of the staff.  I was a bit overwhelmed and told her I was going to plant similar colors that would eventually melt into each other as their colors fade to white, as most do.  I liked the two toned petals of yellow and pink so I added this to my collection.

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Floribunda, Tuscan Sun (above) joined soon after.  I liked it’s big full blooms, and I thought planted  within range of Sheila’s Perfume it would make a nice blending effect.  It starts out with the same pink as Sheila’s Perfume then ends with a peach.   With the Moondance behind them I think they will make a striking show.

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On the opposite side of my garden a white climbing rose will work its way up the fence.  Having a pink climber at home, I had to remember they bob their heads downward when they bloom so I told myself to not be discouraged by this sight at the nursery.  They are not wilting for lack of care or water, they are merely wanting you to see them better.  They have formed this habit of pointing their heads downward, because they know someday they will be a mighty towering thing and will have to look down at you.

I then was intrigued by a rose that is grotesquely named, but fortunately, its flower is not.  It’s called Ketchup and Mustard…

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Beside the Moondance, this bicolored beauty spoke to me in a very strong way.  I was disgusted with the name, but I put that aside.  Its coloring was quite beautiful, and attracted my eye.  Let’s instead refer to it as Sunshine’s Kiss.   Sounds much better than Ketchup and Mustard.  Gag me!  The name reduces a garden to a flimsy hotdog.  Not exactly what I meant before by achieving the American dream.   Anyway, last but not least I picked up a yellow to blend with the unfortunately named.

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Floribunda, Julia Child.  See the white climber in the background.  Like the moon aglow on a starry night.

I emerged from this adventure an hour later covered in blood (the thorns) and sweat.   I choose all Floribunda’s because they are hardier for Michigan.  I felt I had gone about my task carefully.   When I was done I drove away completely satisfied with all of my choices.  Not a drop of regret.  These roses will be in my garden for a very long time, hopefully forever if I can do my job well.   Wish me luck!!

Tell me, what is your favorite rose?

…And as always, thank you for reading…

To Fidget: A Garden in Miniature

The rheumatic, the sufferers from lumbago, and the merely elderly, would all be well advised to try a little experiment in sink or trough gardening…raised to hand-level on four little piers of brick or stone, may provide in this their second life a constant pleasure and interest to those keen gardeners who for one reason or another can no longer stoop or dig, but who still wish to fidget happily with their favourite occupation.
Fidget is perhaps the right word, for this is indeed a miniature form of gardening.  The sink gardener is like a jeweler working in precious stones.

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
June 12, 1949

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Perhaps smaller than a sink, but still useful for my purpose is this pot I made above.   I had a bird bath in my garden last year.  Unfortunately during one of our heavy winds the bath portion fell to the ground and broke.  Perhaps it would have been clever to cement it back together but instead, I sweep the sad pieces away and into the garbage they went.  I tossed the bottom half aside determined to find it a new purpose.

Well as fate would have it, at the same time I had a fig tree that was also destroyed, not by winds, but rather my ignorance of how to keep a fig tree alive.  So its pot was remorsefully shuffled alongside this bird bath stand in the corner of our yard.

Seeing the two side-by-side I was struck by what I thought was a rather good idea.  They both had holes in the center just large enough for a pole to fit through and secure them together.  So with that plan in mind I went to the hardware store and employed a inch wide pole to serve as the pot’s stabilizer.

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It now serves as the focal point of my garden.  I planted white petunias whose subtle beauty attracted my eye immediately.  Cast against terracotta, the color combination turned out heavenly.  They will eventually drip over the sides creating a sort-of fountain effect.

Its structure stands at waist level for me and it’s such a pleasure to not have to bend or scrounge about on the ground.  My back is killing me enough with all the planting and transplanting I’ve done.   So it really is a relief when I walk right over to this pot and simply bend my wrist to release the flower’s drink.   Also, plunking out the spent blooms is an easy delight.

So at home, lift your pots up with some unused material around your garage or basement.  Or find a neat way to display your flowers in a miniature garden that won’t hurt your already breaking back.  God bless you for moving earth and planting life.

ROMANCING THE CLEMATIS

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An unusual way of treating clematis is to grow it horizontally instead of vertically…but do this as gingerly as you can, for clematis seems to resent the touch of the human hand.
…the reward will be great.  For one thing you will be able to gaze right down into the upturned face of the flower instead of having to crane your neck to observe the tangle of colour hanging perhaps ten or twenty feet above your head.  And another thing, the clematis itself will get the benefit of shade on its roots, in this case its own shade, with its head in the sun, which is what all clematis enjoy.

-Vita Sackville-West
May 15, 1949

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I bought one White Clematis (pictured above) at Bordine’s Nursery the other day.  It was beautiful and perfect.  Compliments rolled from surrounding tongues as I crossed the store to pay for it while snapping these lovely shots.  My plan is to allow it to climb up my lilac bush.   This way I will practically have blooms all summer long, and they will look so romantic glowing in the dark at night.  My own little “white garden” like Vita had at Sissinghurst Castle!

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I resented having to transplant my other clematis.  I know how delicate they can be, and I hope it will survive.  It did not like the spot I put it last year and it was looking pathetic.  I thought it might do better under the other lilac bush (I have two side by side). So, now I will have two clematis of two different colors climbing, and hopefully one day connecting; climbing through each other to make one large colorful hedge.  We shall see.
Anyone have luck doing this in the past?
If you have anything to add or further advice about clematis please leave a comment. I’d love to here from you!